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How to write an effective product requirements document

How to Write an Effective Product Requirements Document?

A lot of the people around the world come up with great product ideas. But, only some products make it to the market. This is because most of the product owners do not plan. Planning what goes into your product is the pillar of your business. It is not possible to just have an idea and make it big. You need to keep improvising and iterating. It is necessary to have a clear vision of goals, functionalities, requirements, etc. 

A product requirements document is closely tied to purpose, goals, features, and timeline. It helps you understand what you need to build and deliver your customers’ requirements on time.

While managing timelines is one aspect of a good Product requirements document, ensuring that all your teammates are on the same page is another. 

Let’s just look into the series of images below:

What the Customer Really Wanted—How to write an effective product requirements document

This is a perfect example of what would happen if you do not document your product requirements. Given any time, a Product requirements document helps stakeholders across different teams understand what the customer wants and what you are building. 

Product Requirements Document

A product requirements document need not be extensive, consuming pages and pages of content that probably take hours to read. It is enough if it coves the basic yet important information that needs to be communicated to the stakeholders.

So, what should go into the Product Requirements document?

  1. Purpose of the product.
  2. Break the purpose into features.
  3. Set goals for each feature.
  4. Determine timeline.
Setting the Goal—How to write an effective product requirements document
Source – Product Requirements document from Product Hunt

1. Purpose of the Product

The purpose of the product defines why you need the product in the first place. This will help everyone working on the product to design what is needed and think out of the box. The purpose is what drives the features. It should explain the current problems that the user is facing and how you intend to solve it with your product. It should also explain the different user personas who will be using it and how it will be useful for them. Answering the  “Why” part is essential here. Every stakeholder in charge of the project should understand this and be aware of the stage that the project is in.

Purpose of the product—How to write an effective product requirements document

2. Break the Purpose into Features

So, a project cannot be released as a whole. This could be due to multiple reasons such as the dependency of one part over the other, bandwidth of the developers, etc. 

Therefore as a product manager, you need to break down the project into individual features and prioritize them. This helps you plan your product in such a way that you get all the key features out in the first cut and then work on improvising them later.

Here, each feature that you release should support your purpose. It is also a healthy practice to set themes and initiatives while setting up feature requirements. Themes are large focus areas. Initiatives are high level efforts that will help you achieve the theme. 

So, themes can be like API, Mobile responsiveness, etc. Initiatives are more like the development efforts that help you in achieving the theme. It ensures that you are headed in the right direction. 

Turning purpose into features—How to write an effective product requirements document

3. Set Goals For Each feature

Needless to say, each feature will have a release criterion associated with it. You will have metrics to test, a timeline for the progress, etc. This is important. You need to have a realistic release criterion that will help you push the feature out. Why I say realistic is because, most organizations tend to have an unplanned timeline. When planning a timeline, it is important to consider the resources that you have, the efficiency of the resources and a buffer in case things go out of the hand.

Having a definite timeline is important especially if you have an upcoming feature dependant on the one that you are working on, or a feature that handshakes with yours.

Now, your goals for the release criteria should be easy to understand, action-oriented, achievable and should have a metric to measure the progress. It should also cover 5 areas – Functionality, Usability, Reliability, Performance, and Supportability. 

  • Functionality defines the minimum capability that you will need to have in order to release the product. For example, if you are building the product, you need user requirements. User requirements here is your functionality.

    It should answer questions like – Should the original features be retained? Are there any mandatory functions that need to be included?
  • Usability defines the ease of working with your product or feature. It ensures that your design is simple and intuitive. It should answer questions like – Is the design aesthetic? How long will it take to complete the task associated with each use case?
  • Reliability defines how reliable your product or feature is. It is primarily used to check what happens in case of system failures or how they recover after downtimes. It should answer questions like – Does the system have everything to recover from a failure? Can you predict a failure?
  • Performance defines the speed of your product. It should answer questions like –  What is the maximum response time? What is the memory consumption?
  • Supportability defines if your product is good to go, meaning if your users can install it and use it. It should answer questions like – can it be tested, serviced and installed?

4. Determine Timeline

Every release should be coupled with a timeline. It gives an idea to the other project managers and stakeholders when they can expect the product in the market. 

This timeline should not be static, meaning it should give you the flexibility to adapt to changes that will improve the performance or accessibility of the feature. That said, a feature will never see the light of the day if project managers or developers keep adding improvements to it. Therefore it is important to have a hard number on the number of features one can add for a feature. 

Product Requirements document – Templates

You can choose any tool to write a Product requirement document and to maintain it. Here are a few templates of Product Requirement Documents.

This template is powered by Confluence and helps you define, track, and scope requirements for your product or feature.

Templates—How to write an effective product requirements document

This template is from Aha and helps in defining small chunks of work and linking them to strategic goals and initiatives.

Criteria for the template—How to write an effective product requirements document

A sample product requirements document created by VironIT

Criteria for the template—How to write an effective product requirements document

A product requirements document using Slite.

Product Spec Sheet—How to write an effective product requirements document

A product specification sheet from Smartdraw.

Template for the Spec Sheet—How to write an effective product requirements document

Bottom Line

Ignoring paperwork until your sprints is probably the last thing you should do. During the early stages of development, each feature will be interlinked with another, meaning the dependency of one feature over the other can be alarmingly high. That is the reason why you need to clearly purpose out your goals. With Product development, you never know when a new issue will crop up. Having an effective documentation ensures that you have the bandwidth to work on them.

Source: Feature Flow

It should provide an idea to fellow product manager what you are building and why you are doing this. It helps in translating your product requirements to developers and in understanding the dependencies among different teams. It helps developers and product managers stay on the same page and helps you build what you need within the given timeline.

Have a product requirement document and are looking at developers to implement it? head over to Crayond. We will take off your idea from there.

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